Fast food chain Jack in the Box was struggling in the early ’90s. Then, in 1994, it unveiled the “Jack Box” ad campaign with commercials starring the company’s fictional clown-headed CEO. The Jack Box ads were widely praised and turned Jack in the Box’s fortunes around. But now, Jack has found himself in the center of controversy: A new ad, called “Jack’s Bowls,” is being criticized for making light of sexual harassment.
The “Jack’s Bowls” spot is pretty straightforward, and features the meta twist many of the Jack Box ads are known for. The first half of the commercial features Jack telling the world about the chain’s new teriyaki bowls via a series of “balls” puns like “Try my bowls” and “meaty bowls.” Employees show off their teriyaki bowls to Jack, and he praises them with the same double entendres.
At this point, the “commercial” within the commercial stops. A legal adviser tells Jack he can’t say any of the bowls/balls puns — leading Jack to clarify what he can and can’t say with, you guessed it, more puns.
The inclusion of the employees in the ad, however, is what has caused the outcry. If Jack Box is the CEO, by making sexual innuendo, he’s creating a hostile work environment. Or, as Eater put it in their commentary, “The entire premise of the ad — the joke — is that Jack’s employees are being tricked by their male boss into parroting a sexual innuendo that reinforces his dominant status in the workplace.”
A joint statement from Jack in the Box and David&Goliath, the agency that produced the spot, said that the ad was not meant to make light of harassment. The statement read:
“This ad is a creative and humorous expression around the teriyaki bowl, highlighting how a burger brand such as Jack in the Box has the guts — or ‘bowls’ — to go beyond the usual and serve something other than burgers. This ad is not diminishing any movement, and we stand firmly against any form of harassment and value those who have the guts to combat it.”